States of Independence
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Read an exclusive story from Atticus Lish

Tyrant Books shares a short tale from the author who shuns the internet scene in favour of real life's daily intricacies

Atticus Lish Illustration_Talmudic scrolls
Atticus Lish

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. 

Kicking off State of Literature week is New York's Tyrant Books – the publishing house founded by Giancarlo DiTrapano that's behind some of the most exciting and controversial releases of recent times. DiTrapano lays down his perspective on the future of publishing, Megan Boyle and Atticus Lish share exclusive extracts, and – as if that wasn't enough music to your ears – Blake Butler has created a playlist to help you stop thinking altogether.

Giancarlo DiTrapano is really excited about Atticus Lish's upcoming novel Preparation for the Next Life, and so are we. Unfortunately, its slated November release date on the Tyrant Books imprint seems like a lifetime away. For now, we've got an exclusive short story and illustration from the radical author who, as DiTrapano explains, is "rarely online." Residing in Brooklyn without being in thrall to its alt-lit scene – that, in terms of WWW-inspired content, is currently fit to burst after all – Lish instead finds his inspirations in a more traditional source: people's interactions with other people. Read on to get a taste of the about-to-blow-up writer with the inimitable knack for capturing the daily embarrassments and small triumphs of quotidian, working life. 

Honeymoon II

I work in a female-dominated industry. Nothing wrong with that. Women are great and everything. They give birth to us and so on. They bring cookies to the office and share them. There have been six or seven occasions requiring a cake over the past year. One of the ladies bustles around the room collecting five dollars from everyone. Then, a few days later, there’s a card to sign — that loopy handwriting and all the hearts. It’s amazing how much women who despise each other in daily life love each other on greeting cards. And how much they know about each other. It’s all in these cards: “I’ll miss you forever! Good luck ‘scaling that personal summit’!” Special days for cousins twice removed’s best friends’ manicurist’s sisters. They’ve all known each other’s affairs in great detail for months. I guess these facts are communicated to each other in much the same way they all establish the same monthly cycles, through secret chemical messages.

Sunny can’t come in today because of her kid’s pre-k graduation, I’m told. I didn’t even know there was a Sunny in our office. But all the females know this stuff. They know each other’s family trees.

Let me add a dimension of racial animus to the waft of sexism I’m releasing here. These aren’t just any women: they’re Chinese. We’re in the translation business. So there are some Chinese cultural things mixed in with the femaleness. The cakes come from Flushing, Queens, and are taro- or green tea-flavored. Another problem: The women monitor everything. When I came in today, Grace noted the time and said, “You’re earlier than yesterday.” During the Qin Dynasty, one recalls, the First Emperor’s subjects were organized into self-policing watch groups. Last night when I was leaving, she said, “You’re only working eight hours today? Hm.”

Working hours are a particular theme. Grace and Effie have had extensive conversations in my presence about whether or not I will work overtime. Grace says, “He doesn’t like working overtime.” Effie says, “He wants to go home to his wife.” “Why does he have to go home? Is he afraid of her?” “Yes, maybe. A lot of Jewish men are afraid of their wives.” “How do you know he’s Jewish?” “Ninety percent of all men in New York are Jewish.” “Ask him if he’s afraid of his wife.” “Oh no. He’ll never admit it. His male ego is too big to admit fear.” “He’s not a traditional male. No New York men are traditional conservative males anymore. They are metrosexual.” “Metrocard?” “Metrosexual.” “Homosexual?” “No, no.” “Haha! Homosexual. He will be upset. No. Impossible. You go too far. He’s married.” “Come on, Effie, some married men are homosexual. Haven’t you heard?” “How do you know?” “Because I worked at an AIDS crisis center.” And so on.

“They’ve all known each other’s affairs in great detail for months. I guess these facts are communicated to each other in much the same way they all establish the same monthly cycles, through secret chemical messages.” – Atticus Lish

It was hot and airless on Monday, and they were all commiserating aloud and fanning themselves. None of the women seemed to be able to connect the temperature increase to a physical cause. They offered wild theories, which I strove to ignore. But I finally spoke up, against my better judgment. “The AC’s out,” I said.

“Why don’t you fix it?” Grace asked me.

“I wouldn’t know how.”

“I thought you said you were handy.”

Did she not realize that this was a midtown office building whose temperature was controlled by a central HVAC system?

“Yeah,” Effie chimed in. “You said you were handy. You said you liked plumbing.”

“I said I liked plumbing? I liked it?”

“Yeah you did,” Grace said. “You said you were an amateur plumber.”

“An amateur plumber? What the hell is an amateur plumber? Is that a plumber who hasn’t gone pro yet?” 

“What is he talking about?” Effie turned to Grace.

“Don’t listen to him.”

The next day, I moved my workstation. The only other available workstation was sandwiched between the boss, an American female, and the wall.

Effie and Grace remarked continually on my departure. I told them, “Ladies, don’t take this personally.”

Effie said, “Don’t talk to me. You betray us badly.”

Grace said, “How will you stand to look at the wall? Is the wall supposed to be more attractive than Effie? I would think that Effie looks at least as good as a wall!”

“She began confiding in me about the many men she knew. It quickly appeared that they all fell into two categories: the ones who were sexy—the ones she liked—and the ones who were creepy—the ones who liked her.” – Atticus Lish

The American boss is a young woman, not long out of college. The company we work for exploits her and other young people like her who are overburdened by student loans, forcing them to work fantastic hours while on salary, i.e., for no overtime. However, at this particular worksite, monitoring is lax. She’s the project manager and enjoys some meager autonomy, which she occasionally exploits, surfing the Internet or stepping out for a drink during the workday. As she sometimes does, she had a protracted phone conversation with a linguist yesterday. Several times she made her voice go down an octave to a smoky alto and intoned: “I totally understand...”  

When she hung up, she announced to all of us that the linguist was a mature man “with a very sexy English accent” and she “would have been happy to speak with him all day.”

Since I was sitting next to her, she began confiding in me about the many men she knew. It quickly appeared that they all fell into two categories: the ones who were sexy—the ones she liked—and the ones who were creepy—the ones who liked her.

I was pretty sure I was neither one of these. In an effort to underline my unique identity, I moved back to my original seat.

Effie said, “Don’t come back. Not welcome.”

I was reminded of Robert Stone’s short story Honeymoon, in which the protagonist, having left his wife to marry a younger woman, wakes up in his honeymoon bed in what is ostensibly a Caribbean paradise, so crushed by regret that he calls his now-ex-wife on the phone while his new wife is out sunbathing and begs to be allowed to come home. His ex-wife weeps with him, but tells him, “You wanted to go. Get gone.” Whereupon he swallows a bottle of diazepam before going scuba diving. Once underwater, he removes his air tank and allows himself to sink, drowning himself.

“Now you come back, it’s a problem for me. I was going to spread my things out, take over your desk. I get comfortable,” Effie says. “With you back, I can’t kou bizi anymore.”

“He doesn’t know what that means,” Grace says. And to me, “Kou bizi means ‘pick her nose’.” 

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